5 players to watch Saturday when South Carolina plays Central Florida
Central Florida must be thinking that this is their year to finally defeat a struggling South Carolina. The Knights are winless in all five of their contests against the Gamecocks, the most-recent a 28-25 loss in 2013 in Orlando.
South Carolina (1-2) and Central Florida (0-3) renew their series Week 4 back in Columbia. Both teams are struggling this year and are desperate for a victory (even if it’s just of the moral variety). Then again, perhaps the Knights aren’t so confident, having kicked running back William Stanback off the team this week and watched leading wide receiver Jordan Akin go down with an injury.
Here are five players to keep an eye on this Saturday when the Knights seek their first-ever win over the Gamecocks.
1. South Carolina QB Lorenzo Nunez — Steve Spurrier is shaking up his lineup after back-to-back lackluster performances against Kentucky and Georgia, which dropped the Gamecocks to a quick 0-2 in the SEC East. Nothing shakes up an offense better than naming a guy who started the season No. 4 on the depth chart as your starting quarterback.
Nunez is a change of pace from the injured Connor Mitch, the demoted Perry Orth and the untested Michael Scarnecchia, all traditional pocket passers. The freshman from Kennesaw, Ga., has rushed for 116 yards on the season, including a team-high 76 against Georgia in Week 3.
When Nunez (4-of-5, 18 career passing yards) trots out to take the Gamecocks’ first snap against Central Florida, he’ll make Spurrier history.
“I think he’s the first true freshman quarterback as a coach I’ve ever started,” Spurrier said at his weekly press conference*. “But that’s just where we are right now and we got a true freshman center (Zack Bailey). Lorenzo Nunez is going to start the game. We’re going to let him go play.
“Certainly we believe the other quarterbacks will probably play some in the course of the game. Perry Orth, maybe even Michael Scarnecchia, just depends how the game goes. Lorenzo gives us maybe a little spark we need offensively and certainly we need some sparks on defense. I think we’ll have at least maybe three or four new starters on defense.”
*Nunez is actually the second true freshman ever to start at quarterback for Spurrier, but the first with South Carolina. Jesse Palmer started as a true freshman for the Head Ball Coach at Florida in 1997.
2. South Carolina RB Shon Carson — David Williams was supposed to be that latter half of South Carolina’s #BashAndDash running game this season. Instead it’s been more like #BashedAndDashed as the Gamecocks rushing attack has sputtered with a middling 207.7 yards per game. Williams is second on the team in attempts with 21, but lags behind on the stat sheet with a mere 82 yards in three games.
With Brandon Wilds (Bash, 182 yards) possibly out with a rib injury, it appears third-string tailback Shon Carson will get the nod over Williams. Carson trails only Wilds with 119 yards rushing and is the lone Gamecocks running back with a touchdown this year. The redshirt senior and kick-return specialist leads South Carolina in all-purpose yards with 322 yards (204 kick return yards). With new quarterback Lorenzo Nunez under center and Carson getting an increased role, Steve Spurrier’s offense could have a new look against Central Florida. Whether or not new faces will reverse South Carolina’s recent misfortunes remains to be seen.
“Brandon has a bruised rib,” Spurrier said at his Tuesday press conference. “Whether or not he’ll play I guess we’ll find out Friday or Saturday. Shon Carson probably scheduled to start. We’re not giving up on David (Williams). He has struggled. He fell behind the line that play last week, but he’s a good back. We just can’t get him going. Hopefully he gets in there and gets going this week.”
3. Central Florida WR Tre’Quan Smith — The injury bug has swept through the Central Florida locker room as leading wide receiver Jordan Akins was sidelined for the season in Week 3 with a knee injury. The ailment doesn’t deplete the Knights wide receiver corps, necessarily, but it shifts the focus to Tre’Quan Smith.
The redshirt freshman enters the South Carolina game trailing Akin by one yard and one touchdown (2 to 1 TDs) for the team lead with 151 yards through the air. What Smith lacks in experience, UCF’s 2014 Scout Player of the Year makes up for with speed. Central Florida believes the three-star recruit has No. 1 wide receiver potential and can be a 40-plus catch wideout.
He’ll have to do so with UCF backup quarterback Tyler Harris filling in for 2-4 weeks as Knights starter Justin Holman nurses a hand injury. Holman had 289 yards passing, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions before leaving after hitting his throwing hand on a Stanford helmet.
4. South Carolina LB T.J. Holloman – Both Steve Spurrier and co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke stated that changes are coming this week along the struggling South Carolina defense. Expect alterations in the Gamecocks’ pass defense, including an increased role for the redshirt junior T.J. Holloman.
“T.J. Holloman (could) play a little more,” Hoke said via gamecocksonline.com after Tuesday’s practice. “We have to figure out what are best group of corners are, who we want to play there. It is really at those positions, linebacker, corner, and then the safety position, rotate some guys through there.”
Holloman brings an experienced veteran presence to a unit that ranks last in SEC and No. 108 nationally in total defense giving up 471.1 ypg (251.3 ypg in the air).
Playing out of the SAM position, Holloman registered 4 tackles in his first game of the season during Week 3’s loss to Georgia. For his career, the linebacker has 81 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, and 2 sacks in 25 career games. Look for Holloman to move to the MIKE position with Gamecock leading tackler Skai Moore sliding over to the WILL position.
5. Central Florida LB Chequan Burkett — Chequan Burkett has emerged into a terror on defense for Central Florida, racking up 14.0 tackles, a sack, and a team-high 3.0 tackles for loss. Despite the rise of the junior linebacker, the Knights defense is vulnerable and is coming off a 16-15 loss to FCS foe Furman.
It was UCF’s first loss to an FCS opponent since joining the FBS in 1996. The Knights defense coughs up an average of 279.0 ypg in the air and has yet to intercept a pass in 2015. But South Carolina can’t sleep on Burkett and the Central Florida defense, even if the Knights are 0-3 on the season. Burkett is among nine defenders to register a tackle for loss this season and picked up a safety against the Paladins.